Ever since Skye left for Texas, John and I have been walking Skye’s dog, Xavior, Journey’s dog, Katie, and our older “family dog,” Joe. Skye had not been doing a consistent job of walking Xavior in the months before she left. Journey, it turns out, was not really ready for the responsibility of a dog. And Joe – poor Joe – he had been ignored as nobody-in-particular’s-responsibility for much too long. All the dogs needed exercise, so John and I – perhaps mostly as a psychological reparation for sending Skye “away” – decided we would walk them every night together.
John takes Joe. Both males (and I do include John in this statement) suffer from joint issues and make a good team. I take the younger dogs – the “idiots!” – as I often yell at them as they yank me toward a squirrel and then turn on each other to bite, chew, and growl. But, mostly, it’s been a successful venture. The dogs look forward to it and bark at us as the sun goes down if we don’t “look ready” to walk.
In addition to the walking, I also run with Xavior and Katie a couple times a week. Actually, moving them at a faster pace tends to cut down on the squirrel darting. They pull me like I’m a sled master, so I switch the leashes from one hand to the other often to minimize the strain. I’ve been telling myself they are getting better at this. However, this morning, after being on the road for over 50 minutes, I was suddenly swept off my feet and over a retaining wall when Xavior spotted a creature too close to pass by. Cursing the dogs and myself for letting down my guard, I wiped off the mud and leaves and we jogged the rest of the way home without further injury – physical injury, that is. This latest stumble, after several in the months before, put a dent in my mental status.
“These aren’t even MY dogs! Oh, yes, my name is on the adoption papers. But the girls were supposed to take care of them. That was the deal. Why do I have to suffer?”
This train of thought led me to think of other injustices. The house down the street was “under contract” already after fewer days on the market than our house. I thought of all the money, time, and energy spent prepping and cleaning our house. Why hasn’t OUR house sold yet? For that matter, why didn’t our previous house sell? Moreover, the house before that didn’t sell either – until my sister came along and bought it. We’re such failures!
And did I mention that one of my relatives just became pregnant? Great for her, but why not ME? I still don’t know why I never got pregnant…
Then there are the kids – learning disabilities, special schools, bad attitudes, vision problems, reading problems, attitude problems, social problems…
Last night, I made a baked potato with broccoli, cheese, and soy sauce. That was standard fair when John and I were newly wed and living in a small rented farmhouse in North Carolina. As I ate, I longed for the “good ol’ days” before children, house ownership, and other people’s dogs. It’s not enough to keep a “gratitude journal” or to pray thanksgiving for all the good things. There ARE many good things to be thankful for – financial success that has afforded these as-yet-unsold houses, children I love who would not be mine had infertility interventions succeeded, canine members of the family who bring us great joy most of the time, and more.But some things that happen are just bad or sad or wrong or heartbreaking. And no amount of thanksgiving is going to change that.
A little alarm went off in my head. Wasn’t that what Josh, our minister at the 5:05 “Gathering” worship service was trying to tell us on Sunday? God wasn’t necessarily going to change things. What God promised was a being with us – whatever life brings. Josh talked about the peace that God brings that isn’t a respite from the chaos of life exactly. It’s more like an abiding peace that comes from being in a relationship with the Other.
This is a hard one for me. I know the pluses and minuses of life don’t add up. I know some people experience a much tougher existence than others for reasons that are beyond their control. But it’s hard not to want it to make sense. It’s hard not to want to have control through greater “cosmic understanding.”
I have to learn this lesson every day, it seems. There should be an anonymous program for people like me. But, then again, maybe that is what the church is supposed to be. I am sad to say that, often, it isn’t. But if the church – or any group of adherents to particular spiritual practices – were focused on God’s presence with us in the struggle, rather than on achievement of specific ends, would we all find ourselves in a better place, a more just place, a more egalitarian place, a more loving place?
Just imagining a community where struggle is met with “presence” gives me renewed strength to run with other people’s dogs. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s where we are and who we are right now.